Tarek Fatah – A case study of unrelenting divisive misinformation

A prominent name on social media, Tarek Fatah is an active Twitter user with over 6 lakh followers. But on numerous occasions, the Pakistani-Canadian writer has been found circulating misinformation along communal lines, particularly targeting Indian Muslims. A matter of even more concern is Fatah’s failure to take down misleading tweets despite being made aware of the misinformation. In fact, in the latest spree, he took an extra effort to ensure that his followers remain misled.

Fatah tweeted a video of Burqa-clad persons dancing to a Bollywood number. He questioned – “Could someone confirm if this video is from the #CAA_NRCProtests at #ShaheenBagh or nor?”  There are enough hints in the video which suggest that it does not represent protests at Shaheen Bagh against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The group is dancing around a woman dressed as a bride. Quite ironically, Fatah had tweeted the same video three years ago…twice. When he was slammed for the same, Fatah quietly took down his tweet from August 2017. However, missed doing the same for the video tweeted earlier in May 2017.

Tarek Fatah’s Twitter timeline is an exhibition of such disinformation and in this article, we will look at some of those instances through the years.

1. Tweeted morphed image to claim Madrasa teacher portraying Islam superior to Hinduism

Last year in June, Tarek Fatah tweeted a photograph claiming that it depicts a madrasa teacher coaching his students that Islam is superior to Hinduism. He later took down the tweet, however, not before it drew numerous retweets.

The image tweeted by Fatah was morphed. In the original photograph, published by several media organisations including ANI, the blackboard has words written in Sanskrit. The teacher was giving the students a lesson on the language. Incidentally, this piece of misinformation had been debunked by Alt News just days before Fatah’s tweet.

2. False claim that a girl was assaulted for not wearing Hijab

Similar to the earlier misinformation, Fatah had claimed that a girl was hit on the head by a man who disapproved of her cycling without wearing a Hijab (archive).

Alt News found multiple Turkish reports which stated that the man had indeed assaulted the 9-year-old. However, none of the reports mentioned a lack of Hijab as the motive of the crime. The incident had gained much prominence in Turkey after the perpetrator was released from jail and referred to a mental health facility. Despite Fatah’s tweet being debunked two years ago, he is yet to take it down.

3. Tweeted video of Islamic flags being raised during Ramzan as Pakistani flags

In his latest bout, Fatah tweeted a video where bike-borne men can be seen waving green coloured flags. The Pakistani-Canadian writer claimed that the flags were of Pakistan and were raised during Ramzan in Tamil Nadu (archive).

However, the flags were not of Pakistani but were Islamic flags often used by the Muslim community in the sub-continent. Alt News’s detailed fact-check can be read here.

4. Tweeted old video to claim Muslims celebrated Congress’s victory by waving Pak flags

The “Pak flags” theory has been propagated by Fatah several times. Last year, after Congress won the assembly polls in Rajasthan, he claimed that the victory was celebrated by Muslims in the state by raising Pakistani flags. Fatah later deleted the tweet but an archived version can be accessed here.

The flags in the video were actually representative of the ‘Indian Union Muslim League’ and not Pakistan. Alt News’s fact-check can be read here.

5. Unrelated video from 2017 shared amidst CAA protests with a communal spin

In the view of protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Fatah retweeted a video of a man sporting a skull cap pelting a stone at a bus.

The video, however, the tweet turned out to be from 2017 therefore unrelated to CAA which was passed by the Parliament in December 2019. Moreover, in the complete video, one can spot a group of people pelting bricks at the bus, whereas in the video retweeted by Fatah, the portion where a man donning a skull cap was throwing a brick was mischievously clipped.

6. Image from 2016 shared as Muslim man hurling stones in recent spate of CAA protests

A photograph of several men pelting stones was shared on social media in the backdrop of protests against CAA and NRC. In the middle of the group is an elderly man wearing a skull cap hurling stone. Fatah tweeted the photograph with the message, “Meanwhile #, in India a ‘peaceful’ in action.”

A reverse search of the image on Google revealed that it is almost three years old. We found the same image posted on January 8, 2016. The user claimed that the image is from the Malda riots.

7. Shared clipped video of Rahul Gandhi to claim he said Gandhiji’s non-violence was inspired by Islam

Fatah’s misinformation cycle is not limited to targeting Muslims but extends to attacking Congress using similar methods. A video where Rahul Gandhi can be heard saying, “Mahatma Gandhi picked up the idea of non-violence from ancient Indian philosophy, from Islam”, was shared by Fatah earlier this year (archive).

The video, however, was clipped. The Congress President did not only mention Islam but other religions as well – “…Mahatma Gandhi picked up the idea of non-violence from ancient Indian philosophy, from Islam, from Christianity, from Judaism, from every great religion where it is clearly written that violence will not help anyone achieve anything.”

The relevant part of Rahul Gandhi’s speech can be seen in the video below starting at 23:37.

Read Alt News’s fact-check here.

8. Video of child abuse in J&K, India, shared as Pakistan

A video of a woman holding a girl by her hair and beating up the child with what seems like a slipper was tweeted by Tarek Fatah in November 2019 with the claim that the incident took place in Pakistan and that such kind of “severe beating” is normal among Punjabi families.

Alt News found that the video is from Nagri area of Kathua district, Jammu & Kashmir and not Pakistan.

Follow Up : Horrible Viral Video of Nagri #Kathua

Mother detained by Police who brutally thrashed her 5 years old daughter.

Posted by JK MEDIA on Saturday, 16 November 2019

9. Trolled Priyanka Gandhi for an error she did not make

“Dear @PriyankaGandhi, ‘Nauroz’ was celebrated last month. The Kashmiri new year’s day being celebrated today is ‘Navreh’,” tweeted Tarek Fatah on April 6, trolling Priyanka Gandhi for her Kashmiri new year greeting (archive).

Alt News found that Nauroz was a perfectly acceptable form of greeting for Kashmiri new year, used by Kashmiris themselves. Our detailed fact-check can be read here.

10. Old video of SP leader Mavia Ali shared as that of Congress leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui

Fatah tweeted a video alleging that Congress leader Naseemuddin Siddiqui said, “Loyalty is for dogs. We Muslims own India; our loyalty is to Islam.”

The video dates back to August 2017. It features Samajwadi Party leader Mavia Ali who had kicked up a storm while reacting to Uttar Pradesh government’s controversial circular asking madrasas across the state to celebrate Independence Day and record a video of the event.

11. Shared old images to claim Saudi officials bulldozed bodies in 2015 Mecca stampede

A tweet that gained 2,400 retweets still adorns Fatah’s timeline despite being debunked by international media (archive).

His claim that Saudi officials bulldozed dead bodies of Hajj pilgrims was made using decade-old photographs.

The misinformation was debunked by France24

12. Tweeted fake news claiming 2,000 Rohingya Muslims join ISIS with plans to attack Nagaland

On October 13, 2017, Tarek Fatah made the aforestated claim via a tweet (archive).

His tweet was inspired by a story published by ANI on October 12, 2017.

Local publication Morung Express had raised the flag about ANI falling for fake news. It reported that the so-called news was circulating widely on Facebook and WhatsApp groups before ANI reported it. Alt News found messages dating back to October 10, 2017, on Facebook which claimed that Rohingyas were going to attack Nagaland. Renchamo P Kikon, IGP of the Intelligence Department of Nagaland Police, termed the news false. A detailed fact-check published by Alt News at the time is available here.

ANI subsequently took down its story and the organisation’s news editor Smita Prakash issued a statement.

While the misinformation cannot be pinned on Fatah since the news was published by ANI, his failure to take down the tweet despite ANI’s clarification shows a lack of concern.

13. Tweeted fake news linking IS-Al Qaeda to annual functions in Kerala college

This piece of disinformation was published by Kerala media outlet Janam TV. The organisation later deleted its YouTube broadcast but a written report is still available on its website.

Alt News found that the flags show by Janam TV were not Al-Queda’s. The media outlet painted a nine-month-old video of an annual day celebration, where students dressed in black, as support to Al Qaeda and Islamic State by the students. Alt News’s investigative report can be accessed here. While the fake news was propagated by Janam TV, Fatah’s failure to take down his tweet (archive) despite fact-checks being published points to a lack of interest to curb misinformation.

14. False claim that female drivers in Saudi Arabia fought on the road on the first day of being permitted to drive

In a historic move promoting women’s rights, Saudi Arabia lifted the decades-old ban on female drives. However, in tweet marred with sexism, Fatah claimed that Saudi women began a “road rage” on the first day they were allowed to drive (archive).

The video tweeted by Fatah was not shot last year but has been on the internet at least since 2015 when women could not drive on Saudi roads. Therefore, it cannot be representative of a fight that took place on the first day after the driving ban on women was lifted on June 24, 2018. SM Hoaxslayer had debunked the video.

15. Tweeted movie clip as Pakistani mother denying polio vaccination to her children

Tarek Fatah tweeted a video with the claim that it shows a Pakistani mother denying polio workers from vaccinating her children. “Pakistani mother slams the door shut in the face of Polio workers. Screams at the two female volunteers,” read his tweet.

The video tweeted by Tarek Fatah is part of a 2018 movie Pakistani film ‘Load Wedding’. The same clip was uploaded on August 2, 2018, on YouTube. One can also spot cameras and the production team in the video.

16. Called former Pakistani cricketer Inzaman ul-Haq “mulla”

On June 16, India played against Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup. A day before the match, Fatah tweeted that the Pakistani captain had to bring “a Mullah to bless the pitch for tomorrow’s match against India.” His tweet was liked over 10,000 times and received more 3,000 times.

The man in the picture was actually former Pakistani cricket captain Inzamam ul-Haq. Despite being called out by numerous people, Fatah neither took down his tweet nor did he post a clarification. He instead made a meme out of the photograph.

17. Retweeted photo posted with the claim that it shows US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at a training camp of a Somali warlord

Columnist Harbir Singh quote-tweeted a tweet which shared a photograph of a turbaned woman holding an automatic weapon. The original tweet claimed that the image showed US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Somalia. This was retweeted by Fatah.

This photograph does not show Omar but a woman recruit of the Somali Army at a military training campus at Halane, Mogadishu. The image is available in the archives of Associated Pressaccording to which it was shot on February 25, 1978. Omar wasn’t born until four years later in 1982.

18. Old video of Kuwait protest viral as deadly explosion in Halal Disco in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Tarek Fatah shared a video on Twitter claiming that it depicts explosions in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s Halal nightclub. “Explosion last night at the Halal Disco in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. Many deaths and many injuries feared. Total ban on media coverage,” read his tweet (archive).

Alt News found that the video was uploaded by an Arabic media outlet Alziadiq8 on July 6, 2014, which described it as protests in Kuwait. A report by Al Jazeera said that on July 6 more than 2,000 people marched from Kuwait City’s Grand Mosque after evening Ramzan prayers and into the old market to protest the arrest of opposition leader, Musallam al-Barrak. The protesters also demanded the expulsion of corrupt judges. The police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

19. Chinese dance video edited and passed off as Indian performance on Hindu devotional song

Tarek Fatah tweeted a dance video with the words, “The Magic that is Hindustan.” The video has a Hindu devotional song with chants of Lord Ram playing in the background

Fatah’s tweet was misleading as the dance form has been created by Zhang Jigang, an internationally acclaimed choreographer and an officer in the Chinese national army (PLA). Interestingly, the dance is performed by hearing-impaired artists.

Tarek Fatah is a vocal critic of Islam, however, often blurring the lines between rational scepticism and contempt toward the Muslim community. As laid out in this report, he continually misrepresents events to throw a poor light on Muslims across the world, especially Indian Muslims. He frequently resorts to misinformation that is sectarian in nature to get his point across. Moreover, Fatah’s failure to clarify or takedown tweets that have been fact-checked as false or misleading suggests that he has very little regard for truth. It is also important to point out here that Fatah has been able to weaponise misinformation because Twitter as a platform has failed to control sectarian misinformation adversely affecting democracies across the globe.

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